Even With Recent Rains, Drought Worries Persist

After the driest year on record, state policymakers and scientists convened at the Texas Water Summit to address the state's water supply problem.
Tue May 22, 2012 11:35 pm
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Water policy nerds descended on Austin Monday to attend the Texas Water Summit, an annual conference held by the Academy of Medicine, Engineering & Science of Texas.

Matthew Tresaugue, the Houston Chronicle 's environment reporter, trekked up to Austin to attend the conference. He noted that many attendees seemed dismayed that legislators' enthusiasm for addressing the state's water issues has likely been "dampened" by the fact that rains have returned to Texas cities after the driest year on record. A full 34 percent of the state remains in "severe" drought, down from 94 percent at the drought's height.

Last year, evaporation led to the loss of "100 cubic kilometers of water, or 70 Lake Travises" in the state, Tresaugue wrote, citing figures provided by David Maidment, director of the Center for Research in Water Resources at the University of Texas at Austin.

Ronald Kaiser, professor of water law and policy at Texas A&M University, said that lawmakers "should not waste a 'good drought'" and must enact regulatory and policy changes to address the state's underlying water issues. "Previous dry spells have prompted the Legislature to build reservoirs, improve long-range planning and set aside some of a river's flow for nature's benefit," Tresaugue wrote.

But it would cost $53 billion to implement the state's most recent water plan, which attempts to provide enough water to account for the state's growing population over the next fifty years by building "more reservoirs, desalination plants and pipelines, among other projects." Lawmakers, which slashed record amounts of funding from various programs last session, seem unwilling to carve out the funds to deal with this inevitable reality.

The problem has water resource experts wringing their hands. "Our population is expected to double in the next 50 years. How are we going to provide the water that they need? How are we going to provide for the economic development of the state?" Danny Reible, Director for the Center for Research in Water Resources, told YNN's John Salazar.

However, some are tackling the issue head-on, employing solutions to prevent rapid depletion of this necessary resource. San Antonio Water System President Robert Puente told StateImpact Texas  intern Sheyda Aboii that his city slashed per-capita water usage by 42 percent in recent decades. “Our business model is to convince our customers to buy less of our product,” Puente said. The water system works towards this conservation goal by relying on "education and outreach, reasonable regulation through effective city ordinances, and healthy financial investment towards conservation efforts," Aboii wrote.

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